When the letter came on the last day of February, I had a foreboding. I’d noticed a certain energy around the building where Family Tree Mediation has had its office for the past six years, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. To begin with, the owner had put in a putting green in a little courtyard space near the rear of the building. Why not? I supposed. The space wasn’t really being used. Maybe the landlord, whose offices occupied the bottom floor, was an avid golfer? But then there were the new fences and the trellis constructed across the back wall facing the parking lot. As I came and went, in the morning and the evening, these details didn’t really register in my thoughts, but subconsciously there was definitely a whisper.
And then the envelope with the 90-days eviction notice inside on the door of every office on the upper floor. The space was being converted for a single tenant start-up. It’s a familiar Silicon Valley story.
We, people in general, or, heck, me-- I get rooted in my life and being uprooted, for me, feels dismaying. In case you haven’t checked lately, the commercial real estate market in Palo Alto and Menlo Park is no picnic. I’d had it good in my old office. I now understood just how good. I looked at a lot of depressing places at four and five times my old rent and a lot of them involved investment beyond just higher rent. Even the wonderful place I found after a month of searching, and a stressful episode or two in contemplation of other contracts, even this new, affordable, exciting prospect required just such an investment, not just financially, but of imagination, time, elbow grease, and judgment, risk assessment.
When I got the eviction notice, I had a foreboding of all this. A storm of sorts was about to hit, and I was in for a good month or two, possibly more, of hard work steering my business to a new home, while still seeing a full client load and making sure their needs were well met.
Alexandra Petri, the author of A Field Guide to Awkward Silences, wrote a funny opinion piece in the Washington Post this week entitled “Famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them in a meeting.” The piece uses humor to make the point that our communication styles demonstrate just how real and pervasive gender bias is in our culture. Here are Ms. Petri’s translation of famous quotes from men.
“Give me liberty, or give me death.”
Woman in a Meeting: “Dave, if I could, I could just — I just really feel like if we had liberty it would be terrific, and the alternative would just be awful, you know? That’s just how it strikes me. I don’t know.”
“I have a dream today!”
Woman in a Meeting: “I’m sorry, I just had this idea — it’s probably crazy, but — look, just as long as we’re throwing things out here — I had sort of an idea or vision about maybe the future?”
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Woman in a Meeting: “I’m sorry, Mikhail, if I could? Didn’t mean to cut you off there. Can we agree that this wall maybe isn’t quite doing what it should be doing? Just looking at everything everyone’s been saying, it seems like we could consider removing it. Possibly. I don’t know, what does the room feel?” ...
One of the influences that led me to become an attorney mediator focusing on helping families navigate conflicts, challenges, change and opportunity is the incredibly useful book, Difficult Conversations, written by the directors of the Harvard Negotiation Project. This book is the product of thousands of hours of discussions with people from all walks of life who came into their clinic to talk about the difficulties they were having in navigating conversations about conflicts in their lives. In constantly analyzing where such conversations broke down, turned nasty, or just lost focus, the authors were able to develop an understanding of the anatomy of the difficult conversation. That is, the authors found in their thousands of case studies that there was a uniform arrangement of structures, obstacles, opportunities and pitfalls that must be carefully navigated in talking about any conflict. More importantly, they created a map and a tool kit to help everyone learn how to navigate these conversations skillfully.
The most basic “bare bones” version of this anatomy is this: Every difficult conversation has three layers and each layer has certain pitfalls that must be avoided by applying specific constructive communication practices.
The three layers present in every difficult conversation are: the What Happened layer, the Feelings layer, and the Identity layer. Over the last several blog posts, I have provided a brief description of the significance of each of these layers in understanding the forces at play in any conflict. In addition, I have described each of the pitfalls present in the difficult conversation anatomy and refelcted on the communication strategies developed by the Harvard Negotiation Project for keeping things constructive.
Holiday traditions are great, but only when they serve their purpose, which is to celebrate and nurture a healthy family culture. The hitch is that, traditions aside, the holidays can be very stressful times, particularly if the family is already dealing with significant challenges. And there seems to be no end to the different kinds of challenges families face.
For example, you may be a newly single parent trying to meet the emotional needs of your children at the same time you are dealing with the financial challenges of re-entering the job market. You may be a recent graduate who does not want to spend the holiday season being judged by the family because your professional or romantic life is struggling. Or you may be in the political or cultural minority within your family and you are just tired of having to either hold your tongue at family gatherings or land in a big fight with Uncle Bob.
Whatever the flavor of the challenges your family faces, a creative way to cope is to challenge the status quo. The holidays seem to beg for rituals and traditions that can be either heart-warming or uncomfortably stifling. The longer they have been going on, the more mandatory they feel. All the good memories they have created make suggestions of change feel wrong, even hurtful. But if the tradition is actually aggravating pain you are already experiencing, change is not wrong; it is good medicine, like fresh air and rest. In some situations, such change can be an essential part of taking responsible care of yourself.
So if you are approaching this holiday season with anxiety about the pain you are going to suffer, why not give the old routines a rest? Why not breathe some fresh air into the spirit of the season?
Let me give you an example from my family. My parents were divorced when I was four. From that time on and for nearly 40 years, Christmas Eve was spent with my mother and eventually my step father and his kids, and Christmas Day was spent with my father and eventually my step-mother’s family.
IF you are facing a divorce and have found your way to this web page, you deserve congratulations because you have taken the important step of deciding to inform yourself about your alternatives. One of the principle objectives of our first session together is to spend time discussing your available options, the pros and cons of each, and which alternative best suits your particular situation. In many cases, mediation is the most appropriate and constructive path through separation or divorce and into the next stage of your life. But what is mediation?
Mediation is a three-way communication process for talking about and negotiating difficult issues. The participants in a mediation are the two people who are affected by the difficult issue (here a divorce or separation) and a neutral third party known as a mediator who helps the couple to decide for themselves the terms of the agreement they need in order to proceed with their lives.
Several qualities distinguish mediation from litigation, arbitration or attorney represented negotiations.
Constructive Communication Facilitation: First, in mediation the parties receive valuable support from the mediator who creates a safe and attentive space and process for saying to the other and hearing from the other the difficult things that unspoken can prevent agreement or severely weaken the durability and lasting benefit of whatever agreement might be reached.
Party Control over Both the Process and the Outcome: Second, in mediation the parties are in complete control over whether an agreement is reached and what the terms of that agreement are if it is reached. Participation is entirely voluntary. Within wide boundaries of reasonable conduct, the parties retain complete control over both the direction of the process and the outcome.
Collaborative Process Discourages Bad Behavior: Third, as a collaborative process over which the parties retain control, mediation reduces or eliminates bad behaviors, such as concealing information, overstating and distorting one’s positions, and generally making life difficult for the other party. Such behavior is common in an adversarial process and degrades the quality of the outcome of such process.
Empowered by Personal Sense of Fairness: Fourth, although mediation involves discussion of the relevant legal standards, it empowers the parties to make their personal sense of fairness the most important factor in deciding the terms of their agreement. Such agreements are often more willingly performed by both sides. Agreements based primarily on the parties’ sense of personal fairness can also greatly assist the parties’ efforts to put the divorce behind them and move on with their lives.
Establishes New Patterns for the Future: Fifth, as a guide in navigating difficult conversations, the mediator helps the parties to let go of unconstructive communication patterns and to begin practicing new, empowering patterns that can help each party find more success in their future relationships.
Economical, Efficient and More Satisfying: Sixth, mediation is generally more economical, efficient and satisfying than an adversarial process. A litigated divorce, on average costs $20,000 per spouse and, in acrimonious cases, can cost much, much more. Litigated divorce also can take months and even years to complete and often requires the parties to adopt postures that hurt each other unwisely. By contrast a full mediation often takes between 5 to 10 two-hour sessions and costs between $4,000 and $10,000 to negotiate the agreement, file the necessary papers, and obtain a judgment. Of course, the amount of time required and the associated cost does depend upon the parties who remain in control of the process throughout. However, because mediation is a constructive communication process, time invested in it generally results in better understanding, a wiser, more durable agreement, and greater closure for both individuals.
WHEN going through the pain and emotions that accompany separation and divorce, it can be daunting to consider working with your spouse to find solutions to your conflicts that will meet both of your needs. The rewards for drawing upon your courage and undertaking the hard work of talking things out with the help of a mediator, however, can be substantial.
At Family Tree Mediation, I try to make it easy for you to consider the mediation process by making the first session free if you choose not to proceed with mediation. Even if you decide not to mediate with Family Tree Mediation, you will have gained at no expense more clarity about your options and what approach might work best for you. So the question I ask you to pose to yourself and your spouse is whether the benefits of mediation are worth exploring enough to make an initial risk-free appointment.
If the answer is yes, you can schedule your appointment by calling me at (650) 762-TREE [762-8733] or email me using the email form on our Contact Us page. Also, please call or email if you have any questions you would like to discuss.
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Serving Redwood City, Atherton,
Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View,
Los Altos and the wider Peninsula &
San Francisco Bay Area.